Fear grips Zimbabwe's manufacturing and retail industries

Consumer products manufacturers are battling to distance themselves from high commodity prices on the market, fearing a fresh clampdown by President Robert Mugabe's regime.
Zimbabwe's Attorney General last month revealed plans to tighten the country's law to control escalating prices, including jail for retailers or manufacturers charging prices above those stipulated by government.

Independent economic consultant, John Robertson, said there was an atmosphere of fear in industry, and manufacturers were not producing because regulated prices did not ensure viability.

“It's fright,” Robertson said, commenting on public announcements by manufacturers absolving themselves of any violation of price controls.

“These prices (published by manufacturers) are prices at which you can not buy. Is this any use to the people? It's stupid,” Robertson said.

Unilever Zimbabwe, a subsidiary of Unilever South East Africa, this week issued a public notice it was sticking to controlled prices for its products, warning retailers and the public “against charging more than the stipulated prices”.

“We urge anyone who is overcharged for our products to report to the police immediately,” Unilever said in the notice which had a schedule of prices approved by the National Incomes and Pricing Commission (NIPC).

Dairibord Zimbabwe, a subsidiary of the ZSE-listed Dairibord Holdings, said its milk and milk products were being sold at prices way above the official approved levels due to scarcity. It too urged consumers to report retailers and wholesalers charging them prices above those approved by the NIPC.

Baker, Lobels Bakery, whose executives have been arrested for overcharging, came out with a plea to retailers to charge regulated prices, but its bread was not on the shelves.

Robertson said manufacturers were not delivering products to retailers and wholesalers because of the additional cost involved. “They won't deliver because they'll incur further costs delivering. Retailers are also boycotting (making) orders because when they drive their lorries to the factory, there are no goods yet they would have incurred costs driving to the factories,” he says.

Many who had hoped for a turnaround after the March 29 election have suddenly become despondent after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) withheld results for the presidential poll, widely believed to have been won by opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Robertson said it was time people pushed aggressively to express their dislike of the status quo rather than die quietly in their homes because of lack of food.

“What we can look forward to is less and less of everything … we're facing starvation,” said Robertson.

He said government had put people on farms “who can't produce. They (government) should be embarrassed. They've damaged to our production incredibly”.

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